“When a Father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his Father, both cry.”
“OK, son. Just remember to have fun out there today, and if you lose, I’LL KILL YOU!”
Look. The depth of a universe is in his little gaze. He was a surprise – an interruption in our busy plan for success in life – and one that many in their twenties dread as a possibility: the presence of a person amongst other persons that you must look after for the rest of your given life. And you become afraid. And not for bad reasons. For you think of all the people who told you, with a certain grin on their self-celebratory face, that your sleep and your dreams would have to take a back seat from now on. They tell you it’s not your fault, but that you are incredibly selfish given the nature of the present state of your existence, which is ‘single’ or ‘untethered.’ Then you smile, feign gratefulness, and move on. It’s hard enough trying to look after yourself, so the possibility inspires some happy thoughts, but mostly terror.
But you avoid the feeling for a while because you play music, read books, write, hang out with friends, and watch Netflix.
You know in a factual sense that ‘they’ are right: there are people who devote their whole lives to their kids success, only to be held in contempt by those same children when they come of age. But the facts are not always the truth. You then think it a weird piece of advice, and you want to escape it somehow, someway. In that moment, you skip over the existential terror by not getting pregnant. On the other hand, you learn that intimacy with your wife is awesome.
So, the rest certainly has the capacity to rip open the veil of willful ignorance that this day would necessarily come, and populate your thoughts more than the one day a month when you celebrate another 30 or so days with the knowledge that you are not yet a father! Right then and there you grab your wife and beg her to always keep in mind something very simple: our future kid is the product of ‘our’ life, therefore will enjoy the privileges of being on the journey with ‘us’, as we encourage him or her unto the day when he or she realizes the journey he (if he is a ‘he’) is called to be on. What great philosophers you are when you don’t have any kids.
Then, you get pregnant. Immediately, you giggle at the pregnancy test, turn even more pale than you are, and without saying so much as a word you reach for the car keys. exactly 5 minutes later you return with another test. Yep, there is no escaping it: You are going to be a Father.
You laugh, you cry, you stop worrying for an hour or so, and get back to furtively telling one of your best friends who happens to live in Alaska. You get the ultrasound, see the ‘peanut’, and the notifications on your social media go haywire. And no, you reject the request of a friend to buy you a sign from hobby lobby that says “You Are Our Greatest Adventure,” because you know you are not that couple who raises their kid to hold them in contempt for making life all about them instead of living life for something greater than anyone, yet somehow is for everyone…right? Because you are still that great ‘philosopher’ that you thought you were when you had those conversations about how you wouldn’t be ‘those’ kind of parents.
Surrounded by attaboy’s and daily pep-talks, from strangers to clergyman, you learn something about yourself that could only have been given to you by what seems like sheer grace: you love this kid before they have even drawn breath. You know, you were eating at your favorite restaurant with your very pregnant but adorable wife, and she mentions your son. A mental image pops up into your head, and somehow in the middle of your next bite – not before nor after, of course – you begin to choke. It started to be the kind of moment you expect in a Lifetime original movie that you would never watch (unless of course you were at the end of your regular programming queue) until you start choking. It’s hilarious, after the fact, but when you get even further from the experience it becomes sort of prophetic with how life will turn out over the course of the next year: wet eyes, full hearts, and whatever other cheesy line you can squeeze from the T.V. adaptation of ‘Friday Night Lights’. You are no longer trying to embody Riggins, but Coach.
You get a new job in anticipation of the child, because you hear and begin to see how much money it costs to sustain one’s quality of existence. And your wife suddenly gets ‘fired’ from her employment. You become the equivalent of a superman, saying all of the things that have to do with moving on and trusting in Jesus. Your beautiful wife will struggle, but then she will find the strength to carry on. Except, not but a day after you get back from a spontaneous trip to your wife’s parents house she calls you to let you know that minutes after arriving home from dropping you off at work, she had a seizure.
“No,” you think, “This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen!” Immediately the irony of that thought, combined with the experience of every moment since the day you found out you were going to be parents, compels you to go twice the legal speed limit in order to get your wife to the hospital. And it’s all a blur. And after a few hours of endless reruns of primetime television, the doctor tells you that you are going to be a father nearly 9 weeks ahead of time. So, you do what need to do: accept that you are parents, and 30 minutes or so after finding out the news, you are.
He screams like a duck. Seriously, he comes out with spunk and attitude, christening his glass enclosed bed by immediately pooping. Hilarity ensues, as the smells fill the air. So, a month or so later, you bring him home and don’t leave the house for two or three days. The thought is terrifying. Eventually you find you can help sustain his life by being slightly more aware of him than your Facebook feed, and all is well. The inevitable oddity of stranger-with-helpful-advice campaign begins to carry steam as you stride through the aisles of the grocery store. At first, you don’t mind, until you experience the same sense of rage that you’ve seen other parents experience when someone who knows you from nowhere presumes their own advice as divinely appointed in that moment.
One especially thick human stranger begins by saying, “Excuse me, I’m a doctor.” You feel like THAT fish out of water during THAT movie, called ‘Airplane.’
Your son begins to smile, mirroring your facial expressions until it seems he has made them his own. And you discover something beautiful about him: he gives you far more than you give him, which is a surprise given he doesn’t speak English very well and has trouble keeping certain smells out of the vicinity of your nose. Yes, you peek into the eyes of an unconditional surrendering to joy and love. No judgment. No expectation, other than to be present in the moment, which has become something you have most likely forgotten about given the speed at which the modern world consumes the minutes of the day. You become somewhat of a sappy person with him, full of cliché and silly pop songs, in spite of an education which kind of led you to believe that cynicism was a virtue. But there you are, looking at him, wondering if he has questions or is just happy to be there.
And whatever the case may be, I’m happy to be there.